The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put a hold on or outright cancelled many parish activities and traditions faithful have come to enjoy and appreciate each year without much second thought. However, one component of parish life the coronavirus cannot stand in the way of is the continuous need for upgrades and renovations to our beloved houses of worship and essential church facilities. Parish refurbishment projects have abounded recently around the Diocese of Scranton. Several notable physical restoration campaigns reached their celebrated conclusions, while others remain ongoing with joyful anticipation.
The parish community of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Peckville eagerly awaits the celebration of the 50th anniversary of their present church edifice in Lackawanna County’s Mid Valley region, which has undergone significant improvements to fittingly host the jubilee occasion. According to parish pastor Father Andy Kurovsky, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church will showcase its new look during the upcoming Labor Day Weekend on Sunday, Sept. 6, when a Golden Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving will be offered to commemorate the dedication of the unique church structure in 1970. Referring to Sacred Heart of Jesus as “that round church” he heard it called when he first arrived to shepherd the Peckville parish faithful nearly three years ago, Father Kurovsky said the house of worship was considered “avant garde” when it was built 50 years ago under the guiding hand of Sacred Heart’s founding pastor, Father Joseph Gilbride.
“As a presider, it is one of the greatest places to celebrate liturgy,” the pastor said of his “sanctuary in the round,” originally built to accommodate 700 worshippers. “As you look out at the congregation, you have people all around you, a wonderfully welcoming community of faith.” Father remarked the parish embraces the church’s signature intimacy and charm and thrives on their unofficial epithet: “The Round Church…where there’s room for everyone!”
“By the grace of God, this phrase has been given flesh by the 300-plus families who have joined in recent years, as well as by long-standing members who have welcomed them with open arms.” Father Kurovsky noted that in the past 50 years, Sacred Heart Church had undergone just one major renovation project — in 1984. With the church showing its wear, preparations for its 50th anniversary year provided the ideal opportunity for upgrades and updates and a $450,000 jubilee restoration campaign was launched.
“While the work in the interior of the church and the sanctuary have been completed,” he said, “other renovations are still ongoing.” Of note, colorful carpeting in the sanctuary has been replaced by wooden flooring and the overall interior of the church has been shaded with more earthy tones to match the new ceiling with its wood-like look. Also, something old became new again when the original tabernacle from the parish’s beginnings in 1946 was discovered, and the decision was made to refurbish the age-old altar piece and restore it to prominence in the sanctuary. The former baptismal font that contained a small bowl has been reconfigured to provide flowing water for the Sacrament of Baptism.
“The hallways leading into the nave (of the church) have been brightened and an office has been added for our newly created position of Minister of Worship,” Father commented. “We have also put in a separate reconciliation room as an addition to our private prayer chapel, which is used for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and private Eucharistic prayer and reflection.” The 50th Anniversary church celebration in September anticipates the 75th Jubilee of the founding of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in 1946, which, it is hoped, can be observed with a Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving on April 24, 2021.
The Pittston parish community of Saint John the Evangelist entered the new year of 2020 with a clear vision of promise and hope for their iconic house of worship on William Street, which has dominated the city’s skyline for 130 years.
According to Father Joseph Elston, pastor of the Pittston parishes of Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Joseph Marello, the extensive restoration Marello, the extensive restoration project of Saint John Church began in earnest in January as the parish launched its “2020: Bringing Our Faith into Focus” campaign.
The generosity of parishioners and friends of Saint John’s spearheaded the massive renovation undertaking, which would close the church doors and move liturgical celebrations and the faithful to the nearby church hall for six months.
“The final Mass before the project got underway was held on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6,” Father Elston related, “work began the very next day.”
Saint John’s would be revitalized in its entirety, with a complete repainting of the church’s interior and installation of new flooring. An ornate baptismal font imported from Pietrasanta, Italy, now graces the center aisle, accented by commemorative floor tiles in homage to the four parish communities Saint John the Evangelist currently encompasses.
New sanctuary chairs were provided by Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. The presider’s chair has been placed in honor of Monsignor John Bendik, Saint John’s pastor emeritus who is an alumnus of Saint Meinrad School of Theology.
When the first public Mass in the newly restored Saint John the Evangelist Church was celebrated on July 18, proud parishioners and friends once again enjoyed the angelic tones of the 1920s George Kilgen and Son pipe organ, which underwent a thorough cleaning and refurbishing. One of the organ’s trumpet ranks was applied with gold finish, remounted horizontally and renamed the “Evangelist Trumpet” in tribute to the parish patron saint. Other aspects of the renovation included restoration of the church’s marble work and pews and complete refurbishment of the edifice’s imposing wooden front doors. Founded it 1854, Saint John the Evangelist Parish constructed its present church in the late 19th century, with the majestic house of worship dedicated in 1893 by Bishop William O’Hara, first bishop of Scranton. The church’s artwork includes depictions by renowned Roman artist Gonippo Raggi, whose paintings can be found in the Cathedral of Saint Peter and rotunda on Marywood University’s Liberal Arts Center.
“The church bells, silenced by the storm damage, are once again calling people to Mass and prayer every day.” The words of Fr. Thomas Major proudly proclaim the completion of a daunting restoration project for Saint Basil Church at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Dushore. When a tornado struck Saint Basil’s on April 14, 2019, it came on the heels of the parish already facing major expenses as the furnace in the church hall stopped working two months before and needed to be replaced. “We lost our steeple and roof of the church,” Father Major said of the fierce Palm Sunday night storm. “Trees were uprooted and tombstones toppled as the storm hit the church roof and rectory directly.” That made the need to raise money for capital improvements greater than ever and, as Father Major explained, the roof restoration project proved more expensive than originally believed. “Meanwhile, furnaces and hot water heaters needed to be replaced,” he said, “and we as a parish had just completed restoration of the Saint John Neumann Shrine in Sugar Ridge,” with the help of the Habitat for Divinity young corps of volunteers from the Diocese of Scranton. As the Immaculate Heart of Mary pastor related, the parish’s capital campaign efforts proved truly remarkable as faithful made the necessary sacrifices and raised nearly $200,000 for the urgent repair and replacement work.
“Bad weather and the COVID virus delayed construction several times, but (we) were able to complete the work for July 4, in time for us to open the churches with our summer Mass schedule,” said Father Major, who credited numerous local professionals, parishioners and even a crew of men from the Amish community for assisting with the tornado clean-up and rebuilding of the church. Historic Saint Basil Church dates back nearly 150 years to 1873. “We are now ready to serve well into the 21st century,” the pastor remarked.
Faced with the impending closure of an aged and deteriorating — yet still magnificent — Saint Gabriel Church, the Annunciation Parish community in Hazleton embarked on a major capital campaign in late 2018 to save their venerable house of worship.
The “Restore His House” campaign continues its efforts to complete the $1 million restoration of Saint Gabriel Church, explained Saint Joseph Oblate Father Mariusz Beczek, Annunciation’s pastor.
Often referred to as having the appearance of a grand cathedral, Saint Gabriel’s, Father Beczek noted, “testifies to the grandeur of the Catholic faith, not only because of the beauty of the sacred space, but also because of the determination of the poor Irish immigrants,” who built the church at the beginning of the last century.
During the end of the 20th century and into the new millennium, the Hazleton Catholic community has benefited from the support and devotion from a new wave of immigrants — those of Hispanic and Latino origin — who have been welcomed and embraced by Annunciation Parish.
According to Tom Kennedy, chairman of the Annunciation capital campaign, the parish has been blessed with enough financial support to get the prodigious church restoration project off the ground. Numerous donations and pledges have come not only from the faithful in the pews, including the growing Hispanic congregation, but former parishioners, graduates of the former Saint Gabriel School, and area residents.
“More money needs to be raised,” Kennedy said, “but the generosity of the faithful will certainly allow Saint Gabriel’s Church at Annunciation Parish to be, once again, a sparkling presence in Hazleton and, more importantly, the spiritual home for all who choose to worship here.”